Last Updated on 27/08/2023
What Makes the Best Backpack Without a Frame?
The best frameless backpacks are lightweight and durable but, more importantly, comfortable. Hitting all three of these is what makes a frameless backpack one of the best in its category. We are here to find out which ultralight backpack you should choose if you are looking to go ultralightweight with your gear.
Why would you choose a frameless backpack? Opting for a frameless backpack over a framed backpack has a number of benefits that only appeal to a select bunch of outdoor people. Those people are ultralightweight hikers and backpackers who count every gram that goes into their backpack in order to keep the pack weight down.
Below is our list of the best frameless backpacks if you’re in a hurry, or you can keep reading for our buyer’s guide and frequently asked questions. You can compare these frameless backpacks to our lightweight thru-hiking backpack recommendations.
6 Best Frameless Backpacks
Arc’teryx Alpha FL 40 Backpack
- WEIGHT: 715 g / 25 oz
- VOLUME: 40 Liters
- MATERIAL: N400r-AC² nylon 6 ripstop
The Arc’teryx Alpha FL 40 Backpack[/easyazon_link] is perhaps the most minimalist backpack on this list and offers well-rounded comfort, durability, and weight. While it isn’t great for carrying bulky camping equipment, it is great for hiking long trails where staying fast and light is important. Mountaineers and climbers also love this bag because its thin and tall profile means it never gets snagged or rocks or branches.
There are only a few attachment loops on the outside, but they are all perfectly placed for carrying poles, ice axes (see pic), rope, or a tent. At just 25 ounces I would still consider this an ultralightweight backpack but what makes it stand out in its class is its durability. This bag is noticeably tougher than the more ultralight frameless backpacks in this guide.
VERDICT: There is no internal frame, but it does have a rigid formed back pad to help keep the shape of the backpack and improve your comfort. If you want the best frameless backpack for ultralightweight hiking, then this is certainly one that I can recommend.[easyazon_link keywords="Arc'teryx Alpha FL 40 Backpack" locale="US" tag="gearassistant-20"]
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Summit Pack 30L
- WEIGHT: 372 g / 13.1 oz – 410 g / 14.5 oz
- VOLUME: 30 Liters
- MATERIAL: Choice of three Dyneema Composite Fabrics
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Summit Pack 30L is another amazing frameless backpack for hiking, mountain climbing, and biking. This is the smallest backpack in this guide and so isn’t suitable for any large camping gear however it does have a large webbed strap front section that can be used to store a tent or other unpackable items. Weighing in at an impressive 13 ounces, this frameless backpack weighs a fraction of what other backpacks do.
HMG has built a solid reputation in a short space of time by making high-quality products with design features that serve the demand for lightweight but durable backpacks. You can choose between 3 variations of Cuben Fiber when ordering your pack, which alter the weight slightly. We like the DCHW for its durability and are happy to sacrifice a few dozen grams.
VERDICT: The simplistic design is ideal for streamlining your gear however it may be a little bit too small for thru-hikers. The HMG Summit Pack is incredibly water-resistant and foolproof in design, which makes it an easy choice for anyone looking for a frameless daypack. They have an amazing range of lightweight packs available on their website – see the link below.
Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack 52L
- WEIGHT: 510 g / 18 oz
- VOLUME: 52 Liters
- MATERIAL: 210D Cordura Nylon
The Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack 52L is one of the better frameless backpacks for thru-hikes and multiday treks. Fifty-two liters of volume is the perfect amount of space for all your camping equipment, spare clothes, food, and water for at least 3 -4 days. The weight is very good, but the durability is better.
The pack is made from tough 210 Cordura nylon, which is far less fragile than many other ultralightweight backpacks. The shoulder straps, back padding, and hip belt are all quite firm but comfortable when fully loaded. You also get two side pockets for water bottles and a front panel for waterproofs and wet clothing.
VERDICT: The Granite Gear Virga 2 backpack is a backpack we trust and recommend to anyone looking to reduce pack weight without spending more than $150. This bag is around 1 kg lighter than most framed backpacks of similar volume, and for thru-hikers, this is a massive saving and excellent value.
Naturehike XPAC 35L Backpack
- WEIGHT: 598 g / 21.1 oz
- VOLUME: 35 Liters
- MATERIAL: X-pac & Polymer fabric
The Naturehike XPAC 35L Backpack is great for hiking with small loads that can weigh up to 20 lbs. It is modeled like many of the premium frameless packs not included in this because of their high price tag. This, on the other hand, is very reasonably priced and is actually comfier than backpacks costing four times as much.
Features include two side pockets and dual stretch front pockets to keep your water bottles and waterproofs close to your hand. The wide and flat profile spreads the weight evenly across your back and hips, allowing you to fit some bulkier camping gear inside as well as attach it to the outside. We really like the removable POE back pad, which improves the fit and comfort as well as doubles as a seat.
VERDICT: This wouldn’t be our first choice for traveling, but for day hikes and overnight treks, it is ideal. Thirty-five liters is enough space for a shelter, sleeping bag, food, water, and other camping accessories for one or two nights, and the design is well suited for this purpose. In terms of price, I think it is good value, and it really does look the part.
Modase Backpack 40L Frameless
- WEIGHT: 510 g / 18 oz
- VOLUME: 40 Liters with fully extended collar
- MATERIAL: 210D EXTREEMA Recycled Nylon Ripstop (UHMPE)
The Modase Backpack is the best packable and foldaway backpack for travel and hiking. The bag itself will pack inside a small pouch so that you can store it in your travel luggage and only get it out when needed. It is the least expensive backpack on the list and doesn’t skimp on features like an emergency whistle sternum strap, dual hip belt, and side pockets, among many other features. This could be the bargain of the year.
VERDICT: If you just need a temporary backpack for the odd day hike so you can leave your big backpack at basecamp, then this is a no-brainer. It is the best value pack-away backpack with over 25 liters we have seen, and so we think backpackers will absolutely love this. It’s also great for taking to the grocery store and day-to-day use.
Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50L Ultralight Backpack
- WEIGHT: 799 g / 28.2 oz with all extras (452 g pack body)
- VOLUME: 50 Liters
- MATERIAL: Custom 70 denier Robic ripstop nylon
The Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50L Ultralight Backpack is the heaviest in this guide but is also one of the better long-term packs for thru-hiking. The removable foam back pad is the comfiest of any backpack and makes the perfect seat while camping. The design of the pockets, straps, opening and strapping is all first class and ng you need in a lightweight, frameless backpack.
VERDICT: If you are determined to get a frameless backpack, then you can’t go wrong with the Gossamer Gear Gorilla. Although it isn’t the lightest, it is one of the comfier and more durable packs out there at the moment.
What is a Frameless Backpack?
A frameless backpack doesn’t have a rigid frame, either internally or externally. It may feature a back panel that is often removable, but for the most part, a frameless backpack has no rigid structure. This has both pros and cons that we share below in the benefits and buyers guide.
Benefits of Frameless Rucksacks
People usually choose a frameless backpack for two reasons. Either they want to be as lightweight as possible and are ok with sacrificing an internal frame, or they want a backpack they can roll and pack into another backpack or duffel bag for travel. Here are some of the benefits of frameless backpacks to help you decide if this style of backpack is for you.
The top frameless backpacks are incredibly lightweight and often weigh around or under 1 pound. Compare this with an internal or external frame backpack of similar size, and you will see that it will be anywhere from 2 to 3 times lighter. Saving around 1 kg of weight on one item is a major win when trying to reduce your load weight.
Because there is no rigid frame to worry about, you can often roll, fold, or pack your frameless bag inside another backpack. This is perfect for backpackers who don’t want to carry everything they own everywhere they go, as you can leave your luggage at base camp and just take essentials out for the day in your frameless pack. This does work better with some bags than others, so be sure to check the design.
Frameless backpacks often follow a minimal design and stick to the basics because they don’t hold the structural integrity to support lots of fancy features. As useful as side pockets are, many unframed backpacks don’t have them and instead have just one main compartment with a roll-top opening.
Because there is no frame in a packable backpack, the shape often follows the contours of your spine to give a close fit. This is good if you pack your bag well with soft items at the back to protect you from anything hard or sharp. A close fit allows you to stay nimble and agile when bouldering up mountains without too much movement on your back.
Frameless backpacks are much cheaper to produce because they don’t use any fancy alloy or carbon fiber frames and also because they are so minimal. This means they are cheaper for the consumer too, and are one of the few pieces of gear that can actually save you money when you buy lightweight.
Guide to No-Frame Backpacks
How to know which frameless backpack is best? There are a number of features and qualities you can look for to decide whether a frameless backpack is worth it or not. Here are our most important components to consider.
One of the first considerations when looking for an ultralight backpack without a frame is the weight. It is normally always available on product specifications and should be the first thing you look at after the picture. Anytime you can save over 2 lbs of weight on a single piece of gear, you should seriously consider making the switch. For this reason, we consider an ultralight backpack to be 500 grams or less.
Comfort is, unfortunately, something you have to compromise on when you switch to a frameless backpack, but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable (just less comfortable). A back pad is always a welcome addition, especially when it is removable to either save weight or use as a sitting mat. If you don’t have a back pad, then pack your softest, most cushioning items along the back to replicate the benefits. You can make a lumbar pad with an offcut of a foam sleeping pad.
Because there is no adjustable frame system on a packable backpack, you can often choose between a range of sizes. You may have to measure your back to see which size you need to order but be careful not to go too big or small.
Saving weight not also means sacrificing a bit of comfort, but thinner materials often result in lower durability. Durability is something we prioritize with any outdoor gear, which is why we only selected frameless backpacks made from Ripstop Nylon, Dyneema, Cordura, and X-Pac. Avoid cheap knockoffs that are made from weak materials with poor construction, and choose a brand known for durability.
Pockets are important for organization and for convenience. If you carry water bottles instead of a water reservoir, then having two side pockets is a huge advantage. Also, having hip belt pockets to store your valuables and some snacks saves you from having to walk with anything in your pant pockets. The last type of pocket you should look for is a stretchy front panel pocket that is great for storing your waterproofs, wet clothing, or accessories.
Roll-top openings are fairly common in frameless backpacks, and they are great for keeping the rain out as well as reducing the number of zips. Roll-top openings that have a wide mouth are the easiest to pack and unpack because you don’t have to struggle with a small hole. Zip closures are ok, but the only benefit of the added weight is fast access. Zips can break over time, whereas roll tops are foolproof, which is why we are so keen on them.
Having hip belts on a frameless backpack is important to help distribute the weight of the load off your shoulders and back and onto your hips. They don’t need to be big, bulky, and padded. They just need to sit at the correct height and be adjustable so that you can really pull your frameless backpack in tight.
Padding and width of shoulder straps are more important than on the hips because, towards the end of a long day of hiking with a fairly heavy pack, you will start to feel them digging in. Foam padding that is firm and dense works best because it keeps its shape and doesn’t get twisted, which makes the straps dig in more.
Frameless backpacks don’t often rise much above where the shoulder straps end, but if they do, then suspension straps can really help to stabilize the load and distribute the weight. Suspension straps are also the best way to adjust the way the backpack pulls on your shoulders, and so is something you should certainly consider.
How to Pack a Frameless Backpack
Packing a frameless backpack takes skill and practice. Until you have hiked an entire day with something jagged sticking in your back, you won’t fully understand the importance of a well-packed frameless backpack.
To learn where to place specific items inside your bag and how to distribute weight evenly, as well as how to fit everything in, watch this video below.
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